Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Required Reading

I don't even know if there's such a thing as required reading in our education system anymore and I say this because I have a weird hypothesis floating through my brain when it comes to reading and young people. (If there is required reading in some jurisdictions, I'd love to hear from you)

You see, we've been hearing a lot lately about the fact that fewer and fewer young people are picking up books and reading them. Don't worry, though, I'm forty-five and they were saying the same thing back in the early 1980's when I was attending high school, so maybe it's possible that young people think that books suck? Who knows? Maybe it's an inter-generational fact that no matter what authors and the book industry do, kid's ain't going to read a whole hell of a lot.

I'll get to the hypothesis in a moment, bear with me.

Once upon a time in the days before smartphones, text messaging, and mind rotting reality television that is a harbinger of the fall of western civilization,  I was in the public school system, I can only remember one time, in 1979, when I was required to read a book for class. As I recall, I had a choice between three books: Gone with the Wind, The Hobbit and Fahrenheit 451. (I read Fahrenheit 451, by the way. I was twelve and I do remember this much: I didn't get it. Maybe I should have read The Hobbit.) My son who just turns 23 this year didn't have any required reading in class - I know this because I'm his dad, but also because I asked him this past Saturday and he told me that he didn't recall a required reading project either.

This might be true for you and your kids - or maybe every region is different. But onto that hypothesis that I'd mentioned. I think kids might read if they are given a choice of stuff to read that has a cool factor. (Or possibly a book that relates to their personal life experience.) Cool factor books could be, for example, books that have magic, time travel, superheroes or maybe even a troll or two thrown in for good measure. Or maybe even a book about sparkly vampires that date teenage girls. (I know, I'm going to get hate mail for typing that, but geez, at least the kids would be reading, right?) They might also want to read about themselves and the issues they are facing in their young lives - no it doesn't have to be "issues" based - there is still a market for contemporary middle grade and young adult books. Who knows, it might capture children's imaginations enough to make them want to, I don't know, read another book once they finish the one they've got.

Given that books have to compete  XBox 360,  iPads and Facebook - but really, is it possible to use a social networking tool like Facebook to get kids reading and to do it in concert with the education system? I mean, if Facebook is cool  (which it may no longer be ... apparently everyone is leaving Facebook in North America) and say a school throws its lot in with genre fiction and books about them,  is it possible to get kids talking within their social networks about the books they've read? (Or would having schools using Facebook to educate kids suddenly make Facebook itself uncool and would this unleash the wrath of Mark Zuckerberg?)
I'm throwing this out the the universe to consider: are there any educators reading my blog today who think this is doable?

I think we all eventually start to read at some point in our lives, but I just think the school system could probably do a lot to foster a love of reading if they can figure out how to tap into kids interests a bit better. (This means that reading needs to be a pastime as opposed to an assignment or homework. The minute reading smells like homework, I think you're going to lose young people a thousand kinds of fast.) Similarly, is there a culture of reading at home or are parents not reading themselves? We live what we learn, I suppose.

This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately and I thought to see what others believe. It's important, too - I mean, with government austerity measures being implemented globally in the fallout of the world-wide economic crash of apocalyptic proportions we've been experiencing since 2008, you just know that libraries are on the hit list for cuts. We've seen it in the UK and they're even talking about it in Toronto, Canada's biggest city.

So ... what's the solution, dear readers? Can required reading be cool? Can it be done? Do schools want to take this on or is there not enough literary merit in books about sparkly vampires or child wizards at Hogwarts.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Whosewhatsit Thursday: UNITY 4 Boston

In the wake of the horrific events that rocked Boston last week, I felt the need to veer from our regular Whoseywhatsit Thursday to give positive attention to the good that rose from those ashes. The following I posted yesterday on my site.

Boston, and our nation, became fully UNITED. Family is family, and when tragedy strikes home, Americans UNITE as a family. And so does our writing community. As always, the writing community saw a need in the world and is stepping forward to make a difference. I am honored to spread word of this valiant cause and, if you feel moved, would you tweet this?

We are helping to spread the word about this amazing book giveaway that was created to aid the victims and families of the 2013 Boston Marathon Attack. Many best-selling authors have donated books  in response to this cause. The books are grouped into bundle packs and a winner will be selected randomly through Rafflecopter for each bundle. Visit the book giveaway site for more details and how to enter.

If you do not want to enter to win a bundle, please feel free to make a donation using this link. It will take you directly to the organization donation site.
The auction will run from April 21-April 30th.

In the Name of Love

SIGNED copies of:
Hopeless by Colleen Hoover
Easy by Tammara Webber
Fallen Too Far & Never Too Far by Abbi Glines
FATE by Elizabeth Reyes
CRUSH by Nicole Williams
Disastrous by EL Montes

Everybody Needs Somebody to Love

SIGNED copies of:
Slammed & Point of Retreat by Colleen Hoover
What a Boy Wants, What a Boy Needs and Measuring Up by Nyrae Dawn
Sleep My Child by Eyvonna Rains
ebooks: Shark Bait & The Other Fish in the Sea by Jenn Cooksey

Just the Way You Are
SIGNED copies of:
Suddenly Royal by Nichole Chase
Inhale Exhale by Sarah Ross
Destined to Change by Lisa Harley
Music of the Heart by Katie Ashley
Wide Awake by Shelly Crane

I Walk the Line
SIGNED copies of:
The Thoughtless Series by SC Stephens
Walking Disaster by Jamie McGuire
Until I Break by M. Leighton-ARC
Collide by Gail McHugh

Stand By Me

SIGNED copies of:
Love Unscripted & Love Unrehearsed by Tina Reber
Collide by Gail McHugh
Love Em’ or Leave Em’ by Angie Stanton
On The Island byTracey Garvis-Graves

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

SIGNED Copies of:
Poughkeepsie by Debra Anastasia
Naked, All In by Raine Miller
Collide by Gail McHugh
Signed Wreck Me, ebook Restore Me by JL Mac


SIGNED copies of:
Awaken and Avenged by Sarah Ross
Darkride and Crossfire by Laura Bradley Rede

Whole Lotta Love

SIGNED copies of:
Fall Guy & Perfectly Unmatched by Liz Reinhardt
Lengths & Depths by Steph Campbell
Charade & Freeing Carter by Nyrae Dawn
Destined to Change by Lisa Harley
A Prior Engagement by SL Scott

Maybe I'm Amazed

SIGNED copies of:
A Hidden Fire by Elizabeth Hunter
Inescapable, Intuition, Indebted and Incendiary by Amy Bartol

Ain't Too Proud to Beg
SIGNED copies of:
The Proposition and The Proposal by Katie Ashley
Chocolate Lovers Series by Tara Sivec
His Perfect Passion and The Undoing of a Libertine by Raine Miller

All the amazing authors who donated their books

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

YA Novels: Where Are All The Schools?

I came to an odd realization this week ... in most of the young adult novels I've read lately (Passenger, Something Strange and Deadly, Rootless, Out of the Easy) - there are no schools. Or if there are, they are superfluous buildings, rarely mentioned and rarely seen by the reader.

How is that even possible?

Let's take a look.
  • Dystopian. In most dystopian novels the world has pretty much come to an end, and schools along with it. The plot follows survival, not education. 
  • Historical. Throw a novel into the past and education was a lot different. Sure, teens still went to school, but it definitely wasn't as a big factor in their social life. 
  • Paranormal. The schools in a paranormal world may exist, but they are either magically focused (wizards, fairies, mermaids, etc) or they are on the very fringes of the "normal" world in which the characters interact. 
  • Summer Break. One of my own manuscripts falls into this category. An easy way to get a character out of school, even in a contemporary novel, is to set the plot during summer break. 
In middle grade novels, school can be an integral setting to showcase friendships, personal growth, and education bestowed upon the characters by adults. Whether the school is in today's world, a future world, or a fantastical world - most MG books use it.

So how is it that YA books can avoid it? I think part of the reason is that YA novels are typically focused on a character's growth beyond just fitting in. It's about where a teen fits into his world. The world is a much bigger place than just school! 

Granted, many contemporary novels incorporate high school as the perfect backdrop for social issues, romance, friendships, drama, and more. I just think novels in other genres have a bigger setting to work with. 

What do you think?

photo credit: Dean Terry via photopin cc

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

TBR Tuesday: This is W.A.R.

Happy Tuesday, everyone! I hope you had a great Earth Day yesterday!

Today, I'm posting my TBR Tuesday about This is W.A.R. by Lisa and Laura Roecker.

Here's the description from Goodreads:

At Hawthorne Lake Country Club your trust fund can’t buy you happiness, but if it’s big enough, it almost always buys innocence. When Willa Ames-Rowan drowns in Hawthorne Lake everyone who’s anyone knows James Gregory is the one who killed her. But no one will ever say a word. Enter The W.A.R. Four girls, four motives to avenge Willa’s death, and only one rule: Destroy the Gregory brothers at any cost. The girls pool their trust funds and devise a series of elaborate pranks to deliver their own particular brand of vigilante justice. Innocence is lost, battles are won, but it’s the truth about what really happened that night that stands to destroy them all.

It releases July 2! 

I was rather behind on my TBR pile and only recently read Lisa and Laura's first book Liar Society. Boy, was it a mistake to wait! I really enjoyed The Liar Society--more than just about any recent release I've read in the past few months. I'm about to start the second Liar Society book, The Lies That Bind, and I cannot wait to read This is W.A.R.

What about you? What books are you looking forward to? What books have you recently read that blew you away?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Whoseewhatsit Thursday: Major Swag Giveaway

It's been awhile since we've done a giveaway here at the Oasis, so I thought I'd share some pretty cool swag that I've managed to collect during the past year.  In this collection, we have:

* an autographed Destined sticker
* an autographed Touching the Surface bookmark
* Touching the Surface sticker and bracelet
* a Two and Twenty Dark Tales card
*  Childe series magnet and cards
*  original The Modified cards (before the cover change, these are vintage!)
*  Echo of an Earth Angel card
*  My Pathway to Books bookmark

All you have to do to get your hands on these awesome goodies is to enter the rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Get your @#$ on Twitter

Had Twitter been around when I started looking for an agent, I think the process of finding one would have been a heck of a lot easier. Why? Because there are tons of agents on there and each posts a boatload of valuable information - little tips and insights into how to find an agent, how the industry works, what the trends are on a given day ... I could write a lengthy list of the things I've learned from following agents on Twitter.

I'd like to say that I was an early adopter of the medium - but I wasn't. I've been tweeting now since March 2009 - I have just over 12K tweets and I've only recently gathered more than a thousand followers. I'm not on there to get jillions of followers either - I use Twitter to interact with other authors and to follow people in the publishing industry as well as book bloggers. I'll get to them in a minute, but back to literary agents.

The most valuable information I've learned from agents comes from their little observations on queries or partial submissions. Agent Sara Megibow (@saramegibow) often does what she calls #5pagesIn5tweets - where she will literally tweet her insights into the first five pages of a partial submission she'd requested. It's short, not always sweet and blunt as hell - it's also a valuable peek into the literary agent's mind.  Other agents like Juliet Mushens (@mushenska) will host an #askagent - a period where anyone can ask an agent anything they like (within reason, of course) and the agent will answer. Bear in mind, it's not a pitch session. Agents on Twitter DO NOT LIKE, I repeat, DO NOT LIKE to be on the receiving end of a pitch from an author who is also on Twitter. When it happens, (and it does multiple times a day) that agent will let the entire world know that pitching on Twitter is lame, unprofessional and about a thousand other things. Seriously, that people actually pitch agents this way is still a bit of a wonder to me.

Even my agent Jenny Savill has finally opened a Twitter account. She hasn't been on there for long  and I expect that in time, she'll be posting her thoughts about publishing.

I also follow bloggers. Why? To build a fan base and to interact with folks who love books, plain and simple. If a blogger loves your book, they're going to tell everyone. You know, when I went to London last year to launch my book POLTERGEEKS, I met a number of bloggers. It was a bit surreal because they actually treated me like I'm a bit of a celebrity when in fact, I'm just a yutz from Saskatoon who writes books about magic and blowing things up. What struck me was the sheer scale of their love of books - and what was really cool was the fact I was meeting people I'd been interacting with using an online medium. Mind bogglingly cool!

See where I am going with this? Get your @#$% on Twitter and you will learn about publishing in real time. You will be exposed to valuable information that you can't get in the latest "how to get published" book. It's a fantastic tool for the fledgling author and even though I've been using it now for more than four years, I'm still learning something new every single day. Do check it out.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

TBR TUESDAY: The Weight of Souls, by Bryony Pearce

Sadly there is no cover for this book to show off yet. I'm waiting--rather impatiently--for it. I've got the insider track on this one, because it's coming out with Strange Chemistry. And I'm not posting it because it's coming out with my publisher, but because I really want to read it. The Weight of Souls is right up my Egypt and paranorma loving alley!  

The Weight of Souls

Sixteen year old Taylor is cursed: if she is touched by the ghost of a murder victim, then they pass a mark beneath her skin. She has three weeks to find their murderer and pass the mark to them - letting justice take place and sending them into the Darkness. And if she doesn't make it in time? The Darkness will come for her...

She spends her life trying to avoid ghosts, make it through school where she's bullied by popular Justin and his cronies, keep her one remaining friend and persuade her father than this is real and she is not going crazy.

But then Justin is murdered and everything gets a whole lot worse. Justin doesn't know who killed him, so there's no obvious person for Taylor to mark. The clues she has lead her to the V Club, a vicious secret society at her school where no-one is allowed to leave ... and where Justin was dared to do the stunt that led to his death.

Can she find out who was responsible for his murder before the Darkness comes for her? Can she put aside her hatred for her former bully to truly help him?

And what if she starts to fall for him?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Whoseywhatsit Thursday: Flashback Writing Prompt

It's time for another Whoseywhatsit writing prompt, from yours truly. This week's topic ...


I recently had to delve into my main character's backstory. Some of it worked its way into the novel as a flashback. Now it's your turn.

You have up to 250 words to get your character into a scene from his/her past. Post those words below and then comment on at least one other person's writing. (You don't need to necessarily critique it, this isn't polished writing people!)

Ready. Set. Go!

(And here's mine ...)

Penny stomped across the porch, letting the door slam behind her.

 "Penelope, get back here." Her aunt’s voice held a strength that belied her weakness. A wet cough and then more talking. "I know it’s difficult for you, but I can’t let you go."

 "I don’t want to live with you." Penny knew she sounded like a spoiled brat. But she felt trapped. Her aunt needed help with the farm. And as much as Penny understood the importance of the responsibility bestowed upon her, she still despised it.

All she wanted to do was go to town.

For one day.

See the festivities. Buy a bag of sweets and suck on them until her fingers were sticky. Dare to try on a costume and pretend she was interested in purchasing it.

"You can’t go." It was an order.

Penny didn’t respond. She gathered up her skirts, sidestepped a puddle, and trekked across the grass until she reached the stable. Without thinking she pulled a saddle down from the rack and rested it against the side of the stall. She stroked the old pony, Cavallo, from his forelock down to the tip of his nose. "I know you’re tired, but I need to escape. Even for a bit."

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

TBR Tuesday: Furious by Jill Wolfson

Those of you who know me, know I have a bit of a "thing" for Greek mythology.  So this novel, coming out next week, has my interest piqued.  I admit, I haven't read any of Jill Wolfson's other novels, but the whole description of this one draws me in.  And I love that one of the characters is a foster kid.  Talk about a teen who deserves to be angry!

We were only three angry high school girls, to begin with. Alix, the hot-tempered surfer chick; Stephanie, the tree-hugging activist; and me, Meg, the quiet foster kid, the one who never quite fit in. We hardly knew each other, but each of us nurtured a burning anger: at the jerks in our class, at our disappointing parents, at the whole flawed, unjust world.
We were only three angry girls, simmering uselessly in our ocean-side California town, until one day a mysterious, beautiful classmate named Ambrosia taught us what else we could be: Powerful. Deadly. Furious.
Yes, that’s us. The three Greek Furies, come to life, ready to take our revenge on everyone who deserves it. And who doesn’t deserve it, really? We’re done with chances. We are angry. The Furies have come to town.
About the Author
Jill Wolfson has worked as a journalist for newspapers and magazines around the country. Her award-winning novels for young people include What I Call Life; Home, and Other Big, Fat Lies; and Cold Hands, Warm Heart. Jill has taught writing at several universities and is a long-time volunteer in a writing program for incarcerated teenagers. She lives by the ocean in Santa Cruz, California.

Praise For Furious
"For readers moving beyond Percy Jackson into the more complex realm of teen angst, this is an enthralling and chilling tale that uses Greek mythology to create a timely fable." -- Kirkus Reviews
So, what do you think???

Thursday, April 04, 2013

So ... Has Dystoptia Peaked in the YA Market?

Dystopia is still on the shelves at my local bookstore - I would bet there's a whack of YA dystoptian books at your local shop, too.  So are post-apocalypse books - I know, I just finished revisions on a project for my agent and we're about to start submitting to publishers. So really, I suspect that literary agencies and publishers are still swimming in the stuff after the massive success of The Hunger Games.

Is this just publishers trying to cash in on a trend after some authors hit it big or is there more to it than that? I think that in order to answer the question we have to try and look at the world through the eyes of your average run of the mill teenager and I can't do that because I'm what the average run of the mill teenager would  classify as old. (Cough ... I'm 45)  But I do remember what I was reading when I was a teen (which was, like, more than thirty years ago). Stephen King's THE STAND. It is and will always remain the GOLD standard when it comes to post apocalyptic fiction. I read it when I was in grade ten so that's like 1982 or something. I've read it numerous times since and it's the book that inspired me to write my own version of hell on earth.

So ... is there a demand among young readers out there?

Well ... a  lot of teens back in 1982 were reading King's novel. As a matter of fact, I do recall a friend giving me his dog-eared copy and telling me, "read this book. It's wicked." (We said "wicked" in 1982 instead of "awesome".) And it was. That led me to WAR DAY by Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka (which I'm sure is the template for Max Brooks' brilliant WORLD WAR Z - though I can't prove it.) NATURE'S END by the aforementioned pair of authors and finally SWAN SONG by Robert R, McCammon.

In short, the only thing that has changed is that Young Adult is an actual market now whereas it didn't exist per se in 1982 - that's why we were reading King and everybody else that our parents frowned on. Why did we read it? I dunno ... probably because it was "wicked" and, you know, being a teen sucks nineteen times out of twenty. It was worst case scenario escapism and I think that there was even an element of end of the worldishness back in 1982. Sure, we didn't have planes crashing into buildings, student massacres or Al Qaeda and homegrown terrorism, but we sure as hell had the Cold War - the documentary below is called IF YOU LOVE THIS PLANET. It's still terrifying to watch.

We had Jonestown and war in the middle east and an immediate family member who actually fought in a world war ... this AFTER having lived through ten lost years of the great depression.

I guess I'm arguing that an element of dystopia has been clinging to the fabric of our lives for as long as I can remember and  I suspect that's why teens and even adults gobble this stuff up. At least now teens have their own identifiable genre and this can only be a good thing because end of the world fiction when written very well is thought provoking, terrifying, hopeless, bleak ... you name it. When it's not written well, then it's just like every other poorly written book - it doesn't matter if it's romance or horror or even really bad literary fiction.

What do you think? Is end of the world/post end of the world fiction a fad or a genuine genre that's been around for decades. Me? I think it's been here for a while and will continue as long as there are original takes on it.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Courting the dragon, or Amazon is devouring the writing industry

First and foremost, my apologies for sucking at posting here when I should. I put myself through a marathon of writing and editing, and gave myself a nasty RA flare up. I'm still not wholly feeling myself, but the show must go on, right?

Have y'all seen the Care and Feeding of an Author meme?
These are all true. Especially for self-pubbed, indie-pubbed, and authors published by smaller companies. Heck, Amazon is a publisher now. Amazon has become such a force in our industry that we have to court the dragon to stay alive. Those likes, shares, and 4 or 5 star reviews add up, and when the numbers are right, the dragon will roll over and display the bounty of in-site promotions and potentially higher sales it has buried under it's belly with the treasure.
By now I think the entire writing world is aware that Amazon bought the titan of reviews website GoodReads. The dragon left the cave, and devoured an entire village. Our blog friend Michelle Zink posted a link to an article about the purchase from a bookseller's point of view. Basically, to stay with our dragon anology, the beast has now become the miner and is digging for it's own gems.

Is Amazon aware of the reviewers who are nasty just because they can be? How will those bits of data affect sales? What about those readers that "rate" books by their interest in reading them even before they're released, or read? At times like this, I instinctually look at the possible negatives.

I'm not sure I've even formulated a full opinion on the issue yet, but I know people say not to tickle the dragon...

Ideas? Opinions? Good move/bad move? Don your armor raise your lance and charge??

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Reads I Must Have

*TBR Tuesday is the Oasis Team's meme for highlighting books each of us desire to read.*

My ginormous mountain of wanted reads grows with each and every passing day; I'm sure your pile does too. This fact always makes it so difficult for me to choose which book to share with you. I've decided to share two books with you, today. Both deal with death but in very different ways.  

The first is a book I saw highlighted somewhere in cyberspace. The main character takes the reader on a journey of her last months on earth. I have this book, but have yet found the courage to read it. I must...soon.

Tessa has just a few months to live.

Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, drugs with excruciating side-effects, Tessa compiles a list. It's her To Do Before I Die list. And number one is sex.

Released from the constraints of 'normal' life, Tessa tastes new experiences to make her feel alive while her failing body struggles to keep up.

Tessa's feelings, her relationships with her father and brother, her estranged mother, her best friend, her new boyfriend, all are painfully crystallized in the precious weeks before Tessa's time finally runs out.

BEFORE I DIE is a brilliantly-crafted novel, heartbreaking yet astonishingly life-affirming. It will take you to the very edge

My second choice is one that first caught my eye and ear, not because of the story, but because of the author. YA Author Bridget Zinn passed away before she saw her book see the light of the publishing world. Her personal journey is amazing, as is the book she's written. 
Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly-skilled potions master, is the only one who knows her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she’s the only one who can save it. Faced with no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom’s future ruler, who also happens to be her former best friend.
But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart . . . misses.
Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king’s army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she’s not alone. She’s armed with her vital potions, a too-cute pig, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can’t stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her?
Kyra is not your typical murderer, and she’s certainly no damsel-in-distress—she’s the lovable and quick-witted hero of this romantic novel that has all the right ingredients to make teen girls swoon.

Have you read either of these books? What book do you most currently covet?
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